A game we call ‘nostalgia’: old games, new look
6 min

A game we call ‘nostalgia’: old games, new look

Remakes aren’t just a recipe for success in the film industry; new versions of old games are really popular right now, as well. But what does it actually take to produce a high-quality, successful remake? Here are the four key aspects, taking The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as a case study.

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The good old days – back when we met up with our friends after school for a round of Mario Kart on Nintendo 64, without a second thought. Or when we spent hours playing The Legend of Zelda while sitting in the back seat of the car on holiday. These video game classics and fan favourites from the ’90s and 2000s are currently being revamped one after the next and released for today’s consoles, mobiles and PCs. Crash Bandicoot, Resident Evil 2 and Pokémon Let’s Go are just a few other examples of the latest wave of old game revivals.

The success of these game remakes is no surprise. After all, gamers who grew up in the ’90s and 2000s are now between 20 and 30 years old and longing to revisit the games they played back in ‘the good old days’. Nostalgia sells.

That said, nostalgia by itself does not guarantee the success of a game remake. Many remakes are more than just nostalgic crowd pleasers, receiving accolades from gaming enthusiasts and experts. In terms of their quality, they can hold a candle to even the best and most sophisticated modern creations.

Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was recently remade for Nintendo Switch – 26 years after its original release for Game Boy. This gem of a remake is a prime example of the four key criteria for ensuring the success and high quality of any remake.

Glossar

There are several terms that are often used interchangeably when people talk about remakes. Here is a breakdown of the most common terms and what they actually mean:

Remake: a new release of an old game, programmed from scratch.

Remaster: a slightly improved and polished version of an older game.

Reboot: a relaunch of a game franchise. The old games are ignored, and the story starts from the very beginning.

Re-release: a new release of an identical game (usually for a different console/platform).

Graphics update

A good remake involves redeveloping the graphics from scratch and getting them up to speed with current technology. This is the only way to ensure that younger gamers, who have no connection to the original, will become new fans.

The original version of Link’s Awakening had very simple graphics due to the Game Boy’s technical limitations. Little sprites, primitive animations and an almost monochrome colour palette are what give the original its classic ‘Game Boy look’.

The graphics were completely redone for the remake of Link’s Awakening. The visual style of the original is given an utterly adorable reinterpretation in the new version, allowing the player to become fully immersed in a cute 3D miniature world with cuddly figures, endearingly sweet animations and brightly coloured surroundings. The attractive graphics also appeal to younger gamers, letting them experience this timeless classic in a modern guise.

Left: The original Game Boy version with 160 x 144 resolution. Right: The full HD remake for Nintendo Switch.

Sound update

Older games faced technological limitations in terms of both graphics and audio. The compressed music, non-existent or poor-quality voice content and basic sound effects are now simply outdated.

The sound design in the original version of Link’s Awakening was also kept simple due to the limitations of the Game Boy’s sound chip.

The remake builds on the original with a retro-beep soundtrack and reinterpretations of the numerous musical elements. Fortunately, the new version still retains the charm of the original.

An iconic scene in the game in which one of the characters is singing a melody. In the original, beeps are used to mimic their song; in the remake, there is actual singing.
Here is the original from 1993.
And here is the sound from the 2019 remake.

Quality of life and improved controls

In gamer speak, ‘quality of life’ refers to all the factors in a game that contribute to creating the smoothest and most intuitive experience possible for the player. While quality-of-life aspects are often not as tangible as graphics and sound, they are just as important, if not more so. No one wants to get bogged down in a myriad of confusing menus or have to fiddle with tedious controls.

Even timeless classics often suffer from numerous quality-of-life problems – the same is true of the Game Boy version of Link’s Awakening. For example, there are lots of objects in the game that the player has to use in quick succession during various puzzles and battles, but the player never has easy access to more than two objects at a time, because the Game Boy has only two buttons. If the player needs to use a third object, they must first open the menu, assign the new object to one of the two buttons and then exit the menu.

The remake for Nintendo Switch has completely done away with this problem (and many other inconveniences in the original) by adding six new buttons to the gamepad. Even complete beginners shouldn’t have any trouble using the intuitive controls.

The main menus in the two versions. The extra buttons and additional space on the screen make navigating around the game much easier on the Switch.

New content

Long-time fans will love discovering new content in remakes of their favourite games. New quests, new items, new music, new cutscenes. The added bonus of fresh content is often the cherry on top of what is already a successful new experience of a classic game.

Link’s Awakening includes new content as well. In addition to new objects and intriguing secrets, there is also a new game mode that lets players design their own levels.

The new level editor in Link’s Awakening for Switch.

Conclusion

When a remake meets all of the above criteria, the game will be more accessible to die-hard devotees and new fans alike. The former can enjoy a new experience of their favourite game, while the latter can experience a timeless classic without the cumbersome, outdated limitations of the original.

If this has whetted your appetite but you’re not quite sure which remake to play first, click through our image gallery here. Let the games begin (again)!

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